Sunday, September 27, 2015

52 Ancestors #39: For the Love of the Game

Ancestor Name: Lester "Les" Evans Willis (1908-1982)

Lester Evans Willis was born on 17 January 1908 in Nacogdoches, Texas, to Elijah David and Mary Cordelia Ford. Two years later the family lived in Walker County, Texas, where Lester's father worked at a saw mill. Les attended East Texas Baptist University in Marshall for two years where he likely played on the school's baseball team. When he left school, he lived with his sister and brother-in-law, Ovie and Ruth Pevoto in Beaumont, Texas, and worked as a pumper at an oil refinery.

Five years later he was playing minor league baseball. He spent 12 years in the minors as a left-handed pitcher. In 1932 he played for Shreveport-Tyler Sports. The next year he played for the Baton Rouge Solons and the Jackson Senators. He started the 1934 season with the Joplin Miners and was traded to the El Dorado Lions where he remained for part of the 1935 season. He ended that season with the Fort Worth Cats. He pitched for the Pine Bluff Judges for the next two seasons. In 1938 he was with the Louisville Colonels and in 1939, the Milwaukee Brewers, an AA club. In 1940 through 1942 he played with the Memphis Chickasaws, another AA club. I'm not sure exactly if he played in 1943-1945 seasons. If he did, there is no record of it.  Les ended his minor league career with the Chickasaws where he won 18 out of 25 games.

Lester Evan Willis, 1947 Cleveland Indians pitcher; photograph courtesy of FAG
volunteer Gordon Brett Echols

During the winter meeting of major league general managers, the Rule 5 Draft is held. The rule aims to prevent major league teams from stockpiling their minor league teams with too many young players. The team with the worst record the previous season drafts first and can draft eligible players from any other teams' minor leagues. Les Willis was chosen by the Cleveland Indians during the 1946 Rule 5 Draft. He played with them for the 1947 season, which was his last in professional baseball, and worked in 22 games, starting twice.

He married Minnie Edith Stringer, my fourth cousin, sometime before 1940. When the census was enumerated that year, they lived in Jasper, Texas, and had one son, Lester Evans Willis, Jr. They owned their own home, which was valued at $1,200. Les' occupation was listed as professional baseball player for the Southern Association. He had worked 52 weeks the previous year, 48 hours each week, and made $2,000.

Minnie died 30 May 1966 at a hospital in Beaumont, Texas. Her residence was listed as 404 West. Collier Street, Jasper, Texas. Sometime after that Les married Emma Jetta Bowen. Les died on 22 January 1982. He stilled lived at the West Collier Street address at the time of his death. He was interred at Memorial Park Cemetery in Jasper. Both his wives were interred there as well.

I first learned Les was a professional baseball player when this hint was provided by

Les Willis' record from's Professional Baseball
Players, 1876-2004, database

It was an unusual source about which I had never before known.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Unusual.

The title of a Kevin Costner movie was used as the title of this post.

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